Tesla Model S – still running at full power?

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Regular readers of this blog may remember my very positive report from January after having driven the Tesla Model S the first time (click here). 9 months have passed and I was today invited to a test event Tesla had organized in the Swiss alpine resort Arosa, giving me the opportunity to drive the car again and confirm impressions and obviously also get an update on Tesla’s progress.

September is normally still summer in Switzerland and having enjoyed temperatures around 20-25 degrees the last weeks, little did I think of some rain in the weather report. But climbing to Arosa at 1800 metres, at 5 degrees the rain was close to turning into snow, and the surrounding mountains were all white. Bringing 427 bhp and 600 Nm onto the ground in a rear wheel drive car running on 21-inch 265′ summer tyres under such circumstances and on alpine roads would be… interesting. Would the car’s low center of gravity compensate for the dreadful outside conditions, or in other words, compensate for the absence of four-wheel drive?

Firstly a few lines on the car itself. Nothing much has changed in nine months other than the order books running at full steam, not only in Switzerland. Tesla is well ahead of sales predictions all over Europe and have in this country sold 800 cars of which 500 have been delivered (delivery times are currently at around 4-5 months). As the car is still basically new no face lift is planned yet, but some improvements to the interior have been made. We are here talking about small things such as a partly-covered alcantara dashboard, improved material quality especially in the boot (one of my critical points from the first report) and some new functions and buttons. Overall, the car feels exactly as premium and solid as it did when I first saw it and is clearly on par with the Mercs, BMW’s and Audis of this world.

The test car was the top version of the Model S called P85 Performance +. Besides plenty of torque and bhp it also features an improved chassis, suspension and brakes and a sportier setting of the air suspension. Too stiff for alpine roads of bad quality? Taking the wheel the first impression is that of a very tight car that in spite of its size and weight is very precise and easy to handle. Weight repartition (48/52) feels well balanced, the suspension does a brilliant job and whilst the steering may not appeal to those wishing for a mechanical feel, the three adjustments (sport-normal-comfort) bring a real added value, with the sport setting being perfect for these roads and fast driving, whilst it would be too burdensome for the city, for which the comfort setting is ideal.

Challenging the car a bit it responds really well and again, it does not feel heavier than a traditional car (even though it is!). However, the fact that the torque is plentiful and available at each moment takes some getting used to, especially on mountain roads. Things are also slightly complicated by the fact that you cannot let yourself be guided by the engine noise. Attacking a corner slightly too aggressively I suddenly felt the rear break out a little surprisingly, but it is brought in very effectively and surprisingly smoothly by the (standard) ESP half a second later. Clearly not a car for drifting – unless you turn off the ESP, that is. Doing that and given enough space, you could probably do wonder with this car, especially when you learn to handle the power! My very competent Tesla co-driver mentioned Tesla is working on 4-wheel drive as an option but also said that for normal “ski weekend” use, the low center of gravity basically means 4-wheel drive is not required. And frankly, driving a 4WD myself, I do think it would ruin the car a bit and would personally not hesitate to buy the standard version.

The company Tesla is doing really well and importantly, keeping its promises. The supercharging stations are being deployed across Europe according to plan and will until the end of this year allow you to travel from Zurich to Norway using only superchargers (which are by the way free during the car’s lifetime). Tesla’s SUV Model X pictured below will probably be available towards the end of 2015, and plans are then to introduce a small car as a competitor to BMW’s i3 by 2017. It does indeed seem Tesla is here to stay, and the Model S has lost nothing of its attractiveness as an exciting, fun and competitively-priced alternative to traditional (German) competitors!

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Tesla Model X prototype, available from 2015

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